Ebullience is not a word I’m prone to use on a daily basis. Nor the word euphoric. But playing through Far Cry 3, with its semi-mystical, sometimes drug-addled, segments, floating through the air looking down at the world on my hang glider, before finishing off with some light pirate killing, nothing else comes to mind.
Far Cry 3 is the latest in the open sandbox shooter’s series, and for those not in the know, prides itself on letting gamers run loose in their own little tropical island searching for death and glory. From the opening moments till your final credits, Far Cry 3 (FC3) challenges. It lets us in, taunting us to find every last war-relic letter or cache of loot. It gives a huge list of things you could do, and then sets you free to do any of it you want.
There’s a story, of course. As Jason Brody, you’re part of a skydiving trip with friends and family that has gone horribly wrong. Captured by pirates, then taken in and helped to rescue by the local tribe, called the Rakyat, you discover the only way off with everyone back is to pick up a gun and kill some evil, evil people (Including the amazingly-voiced and perfectly crazed pirate king Vaasa) But Jason, unlike most heroes, is just a regular thrillseeker. He hasn’t killed anyone in his life, and his constant whines and hurried, panicked, panting breathing keep reminding you of it. The Rakyat say they’ll assist him, but he needs to do the heavy lifting himself, if he’s to redeem his friends and fellows. A lazyman’s way of telling Jason to get off his fat American white ass and get to work shooting the bad guys already.
Which is jarring, really. Because not two seconds after Jason has (again) whimpered out that he “needs to find (his) friends” and get off tropical hell, you’re smartly lining up gun sights and burning down foes with perfect killer precision. It’s like the story and the gameplay don’t quite connect here. Some might say that a game where you actively fight yourself to shoot foes and skin dead animals would have made FC3 a different sort of living hell. They’re probably right. It still doesn’t excuse us from the fact that Jason is a whiny bastard who can’t seem to grow a pair. It’s just one small grating piece of the whole that will come back to haunt Far Cry 3 shortly.
Yet growing is part of the game. Far Cry 3 also contains a leveling system, with missions and kills netting you experience points. Earn enough and you’ll gain a point to spend in one of three skill talent trees – focusing on stealth, long-range or general quality-of-life to further personalize Jason. This comes in a pretty nifty style, as each skill is actively represented on Jason’s arm via the tattoos of the Rakyat. I personally focused on long-range stealth, using a bow and arrow set to take down troublesome dogs who’d give the game away before sneaking in for the kill.
Emergent gameplay is really what makes FC3 stand out from the crowd and set it apart. While Fallout 3 was set with a heavy RPG focus and Skyrim was in a fantasy world, Far Cry 3 does it with a modern day jungle. Graphically, the place is a wonderland. Organic, natural, and almost every place can be traveled to. You could swim in the lagoons, finding hidden tunnels that lead to forgotten treasures. Or spelunk through a cave and come out facing the ocean in a hidden bunker, complete with WW2-era artillery guns still waiting for an invasion that presumably never came.
And while you’re doing this, the local wildlife will be skittering away or hunting you down. Pirate (or ally Rakyat if you’ve cleared the area) patrols drive along the roads, policing the place. You could get yourself involved if you want to. Or you could ignore them and continue hunting for plants or hidden caches. FC3 has good depth, and the robust crafting system, which sees you hunt down animals for their skins to make bigger containers, or plants to grind out your own hallucinogenic herbs fit into a living, breathing world.
Yet it’s also here that we begin to really run into love-hate issues that tug at the excellence of Far Cry. First, we had that (marginally forgivable) disconnect between Jason’s story missions and how ruthless you can be as a player. Then, there’s the fact that Far Cry thinks we’re babies and spams notifications at you.
Especially early on, every new flower you pick, animal you slay, weapon you steal/buy, or new ability you are exposed to pops up a “Hit Esc to view tutorial” note. Reading these tutorials or extra notes on the game is great, concise, and might come with video to further clarify how a skill is used. The in-game world also gets a neat lore touch when you realize the entries all have ruminations attached to them rather than a flat and generic “The AK47 was created blah blah blah”
However, there is also the unfortunate fact that (as of press time) there is just no way to turn the notifications off. And they will not stop. They just hang there, nagging at you like your mother. I also encountered a bug where I’d have finished reading all of the new notifications that popped up, but the notifications refused to *ever* disappear. It’s rather frustrating, and can be distracting. Thankfully, Ubisoft has promised a patch in the future that will allow players to permanently remove all such notifications, and even elements of your HUD if you prefer to play the game in more hardcore-style.
I also didn’t enjoy the radio tower challenges. By themselves, they prove a great idea. Take some time out from the island to scale rusting radio towers scattered throughout. Each has been attached with a jamming device that prevents the locals from getting their satellite TV contacting anyone else. Success uncovers the map in the general vicinity, with a short in-game cutscene that quickly points out areas-of-interest and gives some measure of freedom to the area and even free guns.
What I disliked however, was that I *had* to scale every tower. If you do not, the map remains a clear blue slate that shows only some points of interest. Wandering around in this blue sea does nothing to remove the magical fog of war within your own local map of the area. There’s very little choice but to actually go climb and unjam the land so the locals can go back to watching Fox News. (Cut it out – Ed) Were these radio towers an optional challenge (as so much of the rest of Far Cry 3 is) I would have absolutely adored it. Instead, by the end I was loathing the climb.
Other niggling problems arose when trying to adjust settings or play around with menus. Remember how I mentioned crafting was robust? Yeah. It’s also a pain. Navigating deeper into menus is a chore, often requiring several clicks to get around to what I really need to do. Take making more medicine. First I need to hit Esc (or Start) to get into the menus. Then I need to head to the Crafting page. Next, select the Medicine tab (Although in the case of Medicine, that’s the default option). Select “Green” syringes for the healing variety. Double-click on the serum I want mixed. That’s four pages deep to craft a single-use healing salve? And if I wanted to, say, use that serum immediately, I can’t. I have to exit all the way back out of all the menus I’m in, back into the main game world, before I can do just that.
It sounds like these are serious, major faults. They’re not, really. I can go long stretches at a time without ever opening the crafting menu. And if I was playing it in hardcore mode, as some fans prefer, I wouldn’t have to worry about the fact that the map is greyed out. There’s so much to explore (The in-game achievement progress shows a frankly scary number of hidden loots to find) and so much to do that I was more than happy just getting myself lost and wandering the environment. Optional missions, including the leaderboard-hosting Trials of the Rakyat series show the devs didn’t just drop everything into the world and let us figure it out; there’s directed content for players who prefer that.
Overall, Far Cry 3 is much better as the sum rather than the individual parts. And when you’ve lost yourself in another spectacular dawn breaking, seeing the sun rays glinting off the water, you’ll understand it too.